Below is an example of an intentional community built on the foundation of a residential Zen Center. This place is the Cambridge Zen Center where i lived for two years. This serves as an ideal structure for those coming out of prison and in the transitional phase of the re-entry process.
Natalie Watson who recently moved to Evanston from the Boston area, where she spent seven years living communally at the Cambridge Zen Center. Hers is an excellent description of what we are attempting to replicate at the Gateless Gate Zen Center.
There people of many different ages, ethnicities and backgrounds live together, mostly harmoniously, and many more come through the door. We discovered, as have many other communities, that living, cooking, caretaking and meditating together has far-reaching potential to fundamentally transform the way we relate to each other, breaking down barriers of all kinds, and fostering an ethos based on love and care.
At the Zen Center there were many opportunities to cultivate our best natures, simply by living together. Through the process of taking care of each other and the center, meditating, cooking and cleaning together, and teaching meditation to outsiders, we found a simple, natural way to express and nurture our inherent virtue, discipline, generosity, patience, and wisdom. None of us came close to embodying perfection, but our imperfections were good teaching too.
The founder of our center explained the practice of living and practicing together as akin to washing potatoes. In large Korean temples, potatoes were often washed by putting them in a large pot filled with water. The potatoes are stirred, so that they get cleaned all together. Living communally is like being those potatoes- we get cleaned by rubbing up against each other. It’s not always easy or comfortable! But by living and practicing harmonious behavior, we become attentive to each other. We learn to put down opinions and act together: harmony arises all by itself.
CZC fundraiser 2009
Visiting several meditation centers in the area, I noticed a striking difference between our center and the others. Although the other centers tended to be cleaner, they felt colder, more impersonal, because no one lived there. Our center, on the other hand, was filled with life, laughter and good homey smells. Thousands of people visit the Zen Center every year, and hundreds have become loyal members. Residents lived there for periods as short as a couple of months to over twenty years, and we also had many guests. A large group of wildly different people became each other’s surrogate family, and it was a deeply satisfying way to live.
Of course, the Zen Center is just one of many intentional communities in our country, and there are many different kinds. However, what is rare is a communal living center that would also function as a community center for the public, and this is what I propose. The potential for collective transformation in such a place could be astounding.